Understanding and exploring the #sexpile phenomenon
The word selfie has been around for almost fifteen years now and the basics of it have remained the same; Step 1. Take a photograph of your face. Step 2. Distribute that to the world. Step 3. Repeat ad nauseum. There are many variants of the selfie now: the drelfie for drunken self portraiture , the Felfie for the fans of the daily lives of Farmers and the shelfie for the shelf enthusiasts out there. However my favourite "ie" is of course watch related, the "wristie".
I'm sure I had witnessed them on Instagram before, but I encountered a "wristie" for the first time at the Fratellowatches Speedmaster GTG last October. Essentially the same concept as a selfie but focusing solely on the wrist and what is being worn. I liked the concept immediately as the focus was not on those who own the watch but the watch itself. There are no specific rules, so a wristie is whatever you make it, either a solo shot or a group, one with hands and arms awkwardly arranged to give maximum exposure to the watches. The photographs that interest me the most are those which allow a peek into the lives of watches alongside their owners; a speedmaster half tucked under a glove on the way to work or a Seiko at a coffee shop. Like a Snapchat story, a wristie gives you a brief glimpse into a moment in someone's life and how they feel and wear a watch. Are they a lefty/righty, do they wear bracelets with it, is it an occasion or an everyday beater? There is a pleasant purity to the relative anonymity of a wristie however like all things pure it is only a matter of time before it gets corrupted.
I've lost track of the number of people I've stopped following who use wristies as an excuse to showcase wealth and a lavish lifestyle in a vulgar manner. I don't want to see a blinged out AP Royal Oak Offshore in front of a supercar with a glamour model draped over it, give me a beat up old Timex instead please. It is a strange occurrence when two photographs with essentially the same subject matter can provide two different emotional responses. The openness of the internet is a double edged sword and it is very easy for a seemingly harmless hashtag like the wristie to be adopted by those subverting its original purpose. With the removal of the Instagram "Elite" from my feed I thought I was safe. Then came the #Sexpile.
I'm going to be honest here: I originally set out to write this article about why I thought #sexpile was a bad idea. I'd seen a few pictures on instagram and took an instant dislike to it. However the more I wrote and read about them, my eyes opened and I eventually understood. For those who are unaware, the term #sexpile was coined by Red Bar COO Kathleen McGiveney to describe a group shot of watches on a table, "That's a sex pile. That's just a pile of sex, of watches, and it must be termed as such". The hashtag exploded on social media with several non-watch sites talking about the phenomenon (The Guardian, Esquire, FHM & Cosmo) in mostly a bemused/negative light and I must say my initial reaction was negative as well. Like Andrew Luecke of Esquire who said that "insecure watch enthusiasts invented the sexpile hashtag to show off their favourite source of self-esteem", I thought it was another example of tasteless showcasing from those who have wealth and status to those who don't. The watch community didn't take kindly to Mr. Luecke's words and a week later another piece was written in defense of the sexpile term, showing it in a much more positive light. Adam Craniotes, co-founder of the Red Bar Meetups defended the term saying, "for what it's worth, a sexpile needn't consist of a heaping mound of Rolexes and Audemars Piguets to get our collective hearts racing - we all love watches, irrespective of price or perceived cachet. In fact, we have a pretty strict anti-snobbery rule in place at our gatherings; look askance at someone's G-Shock or throw shade at Seiko and you can hit the bricks. Basically, our mission is to spread the love of horology for horology's sake - nothing more, nothing less".
After I read that, my doubts did begin to subside significantly and I don't doubt Adam's good intentions, however I wasn't 100% convinced that in practise the sexpile is a good thing for the community. Just browsing through the hashtag on Instagram, you do see the occasional Seiko or Casio in the mix of steel and leather, but they are mostly dwarfed by the abundance of much more expensive watches. Now I'm sure that someone with a genuine passion for watches whatever their cost would be more than welcome at a Red Bar Crew Gathering but I don't know whether they would put themselves out there in the first place. Even if every person there was welcoming and friendly (which I'm sure they are), if I was in that position I'd be constantly thinking "What must these guys think, I've only got a X on whilst they're all wearing Y". Hopefully this isn't the case and I hope that whenever I'm in New York next I can make it to a Red Bar Gathering for myself (or perhaps set up Red Bar Raleigh-Durham when I'm back across the pond). After looking into the sexpile world (seriously don't google sexpile/piles as two seperate words. There are things you don't need to see), I managed to pinpoint the two things that irked me about the term, the name and how the photograph was taken.
Let's face it, the name sexpile is silly and more than a tad gauche. In most of the negative press the hashtag received there were easy comparisons/jokes drawn between an orgy/sex parties and the hashtag. From an outsider's perspective this is the first stumbling block to understanding what a sexpile is (an appreciation of timepieces), instead of what it appears to be (instabragging). As I was involved in a wristie before I really saw them, I understood the context and true appreciation from the beginning, however with no context to apply greater meaning it can get completely misinterpreted. Now I get why sexpile has taken off, it's cool, catchy and unique. As Time & Tide pointed out, #tableshot doesn't quite have the same panache about it despite having the exact same meaning. The name certainly is the first barrier to entry and once passing it you're on your way to understanding what's so great about it. As with the wristie, there will always be those usurping #sexpile for their own nefarious ego-needs, however in my opinion a sexpile isn't for bragging, it's a reminder of a good time with friends and fellow appreciators. "Oh man, I managed to wear an original Speedmaster 2915 and there is my watch right next to it". What you may consider your everyday beater watch, someone is bound to have been in love with it from afar and relishes the chance to see it up close.
Once you've got over the name, it's the method of photography and placement of the watches that strikes you next. Timepieces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold and platinum seemingly thrown carelessly on top of one another. Again to an outsider this appears to be nonchalance to the point of neglect, however I think the casual way in which the watches are photographed speaks to the openness of the community and the level of trust between enthusiasts. At the Speedmaster GTG everyone there was practically throwing their watches around, letting complete strangers handle their prized possessions that they had spent thousands of pounds on and traveled across countries to find. All it could have taken was for someone to have a little to much at the bar, knock over a table and cause thousands of pounds worth of damage but no one did as there was a respect for the property and passions of those present. By having a Mil-Sub knock lugs with an A. Lange & Söhne whilst it's wrapped around a vintage Seiko levels all the watches on the same playing field. Price isn't an issue here but not because everyone is so rich that they don't care, it's because everyone is more focused on appreciating the engineering and design rather than the price tag. Just a little bit of context and understanding goes a long way and as soon as you realise the true meaning behind the sexpile craze, you'll understand the phenomena just as I did. #sexpile